The First Century Synagogue

Beneath the limestone foundation of the fourth century synagogue is a basalt stone wall abutted next to a pavement. The basalt pavement and stone wall date to the first century and are believed to be the synagogue of that time. As the excavators pointed out, the wall and pavement area are too large to have been a private home, and given that throughout the ancient world most holy sites are built on former holy sites, we can safely deduce this to be the synagogue which Jesus stepped foot in at Capernaum. The eastern basalt wall was also discovered but it sits beneath the eastern wing (overflow courtyard) that was added in the mid fifth century CE.

Excavations that have taken place since 1969 have revealed not only the aforementioned, but the western foundation of the 1st century synagogue that rests beneath the foundations of the Fourth-Century Synagogue. The later synagogue actually rests exactly on the foundations of the first century synagogue with an ever-so-slight correction with its direction towards Jerusalem. 

According to the New Testament, the first century synagogue had been built by a Roman Centurion (Luke 7:3-5):

"The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, 'This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”

In this synagogue, Jesus taught (Mark 1:21-28):

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. 27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.


The Foundations of the First Century Synagogue at Capernaum
Image Credit: Samson Tours

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